The writer Väinö Linna.
Image Source: WSOY
Tuntematon Sotilas [The Unknown Soldier], a prestigious and
widely discussed novel by the Finnish writer Väinö Linna, caused
remarkable agitation when it was published in 1954. Telling the story of a
machine gun company in the 1941-44 Continuation War between Finland and
the Soviet Union, its unvarnished depiction of war sparked an
exceptionally wide and heated debate about its truthfulness. It remains
one of the most-read novels in Finland.
Väinö Linna's portrayal of the Finnish soldier was very different from
the previously cherished romantic ideal, which had been established by
Johan Ludvig Runeberg in the 19th century. What kind of differences were
there between the two images? How did the public react to the crude
realism of Linna's novel? How did Tuntematon Sotilas affect the
image of war and the Finnish soldier at the time of its publishing? Does
the novel still have an influence on people's ideas today?
Väinö Linna's Early Years
On the path toward becoming the voice of the unknown soldier
As is the case with most great artists, Väinö Linna's life and
experiences contributed greatly to his work as a writer. Therefore, to
gain a fuller understanding of Linna's production, it is useful to take a
look at his early years.
Väinö Valtteri Linna was born in Urjala, Finland, on the 20th of
December in 1920 to Vihtori and Maija Linna. Vihtori Linna was a butcher
and a rather successful tradesman, whose profession brought money and meat
to the family, both of which were in short supply for many households at
the time, mostly because of the social and economic turmoil left behind by
the Finnish civil war of 1918. Väinö Linna had altogether nine siblings,
three of whom died of tuberculosis when Linna was still very young
Halfway through the 1920s Vihtori Linna's health began to deteriorate,
and as he was no longer able to work, the family got into debt. After
fighting his illness for a few years, Vihtori Linna passed away on the 1st
of November in 1928. Maija Linna and her seven children were left to
survive on their own (Varpio, Väinö 43).
After the passing of Vihtori Linna, the family's standard of living
declined. The house and most of the furniture had to be sold in order to
pay off the debts which the father had left behind. In the winter of 1929
the Linnas moved to a new home, a crofter's cottage previously inhabited
by Vihtori Linna's uncle (Varpio, Väinö 45-46). However, when the
Velkala primary school where Väinö Linna also went was moved to a
different location in the autumn of 1929, the Linnas moved again; the old
schoolhouse was more spacious and thus more comfortable for a family of
eight. There the Linnas lived for the next seven years (Stormbom 36).
In 1938, at the age of seventeen, Väinö Linna left his mother's house
and moved to Tampere, where he lived as his aunt's subtenant. Through his
aunt's husband he got work at the Finlayson cotton mill (Stormbom 47-48).
When the Winter War broke out in December 1939, Linna worked in civil
defense. Tampere was bombed several times during the war, and Linna
participated in the clearing work. In these duties he received his first
experiences of the horrors and suffering of war (Varpio, Väinö 81).
At the end of March 1940, Linna was called up for active duty. Military
education was rather an unpleasant experience for Linna, but his energy
and vigour made a favourable impression on his superiors, who thought him
well suited for NCO training (Varpio, Väinö 82-83). After two
months of training, the trainees were sent to the village of Kitee near
the Eastern border; there the NCO trainees and the recruits of the same
age class were formed into new units. After this Linna's unit served in
various duties in several different locations until the early spring in
1941, when Linna's battalion was transferred to the area of Ylämylly in
the south-east of Finland. There Linna participated in the training of new
recruits. A few months later the training was interrupted by the outbreak
of the Continuation War (Stormbom 52-55).
The Continuation War
The Continuation War was the period in Linna's life that made him a
writer (Stormbom 50) and inspired him to create Tuntematon Sotilas.
The Continuation War was fought between Finland and the Soviet Union
from June 1941 to September 1944. The war was generally seen as a
resumption of the Winter War, which had ended in 1940. In the Continuation
War Finland's objective was to get back the areas it had lost in the
Winter War (Lindstedt 58).
In the Continuation War Finland received military aid from Germany:
Hitler was planning an attack against the Soviet Union, and he realised
that Finland's territory would be very useful for Germany's military
operations. Therefore Finland and Germany agreed on an arrangement,
according to which Germany had the right to bring its troops to Finland.
In return, Germany gave Finland military support (Jowett and Snodgrass
10-11), which Finland needed to be able to defend itself against a
possible Soviet attack.
Germany started its attack against the Soviet Union on the 22nd of June
in 1941, when German bombers flew to Leningrad 1 at the head of the Gulf of Finland. The
Soviet Union answered by unleashing an air offensive against Finland, whom
they regarded as an ally to Germany2.
Thus, Finland was again at war against the Soviet Union. The Finnish
army began a major attack against Soviet forces in the Karelian Isthmus on
the 10th of July.
Although Germany's troops were a welcome support for the small Finnish
army, Finland was only interested in getting back the areas it had lost in
the Winter War; the Finnish government stated that Finland would not be
involved in any other objectives that Germany might have (Lindstedt 58).
Väinö Linna fought his war in the machine gun company of the first
battalion of the eighth infantry regiment. This regiment belonged to the
eleventh army division, which was commanded by Colonel K. A. Heiskanen
Many of the experiences Linna had during the war were reflected in
Tuntematon Sotilas. One of those experiences was the taking of a
hill near the city of Petrozavodsk on the western shore of lake Onega;
after a tough and arduous battle over the hill, the men of Linna's
regiment found themselves to be the first soldiers of the Finnish army to
look straight down at Petrozavodsk. However, they did not get the honour
of being the first troops to attack the city. This especially vexed the
commander of the regiment, who told his men that no matter who first got
to march into the city of Petrozavodsk, it was the men of the eighth
infantry regiment who had cleared the way for them (Syrjä 85).
The Finnish offensive had started in the beginning of July in 1941; it
ended in early December after the occupation of Karhumäki, a town on the
northern shore of Lake Onega. During December 1941, the frontlines
stabilised; the Soviet army made two violent attempts to break the Finnish
lines in the beginning of 1942, but failed. In April the Soviet army
attacked again, and this battle, fought near the Svir River, was the last
big conflict that Väinö Linna took part in. This marked the beginning of
trench warfare, which composed the largest part of the war (Lindstedt
While the Finnish army was stuck in their trenches, large-scale
conflicts between Germany and the Soviet Union were taking place far away
from Finnish borders, near Moscow and Stalingrad 3. However, the city of Leningrad also played
a significant part in the war: it had been besieged by German troops in
1941, and the siege, as it tied down a large part of the Soviet forces,
restrained the Soviet Union from any major attacks against Finland. But
when the siege that Germany had laid to Leningrad was broken in January
1944, the Soviet army was able to use the released troops in its battle
against Finland. In February, the city of Helsinki suffered three
destructive air raids during ten days. Other cities were bombed as well
Finnish troops were forced to retreat for several days, until the
advance of the Soviet army was finally halted in the Karelian Isthmus. To
gain control of the situation, Finland needed help from its German
companions in arms. However, Germany set a condition for its assistance:
if Germany was to help Finland in its struggle, Finland would not be
allowed to make a separate peace with the Soviet Union. This meant that
Finland would be forced to fight alongside Germany till the bitter end
President Risto Ryti finally solved the problem with a cunning
solution; he wrote a personal letter to Hitler, announcing that he
accepted the given conditions, and thus secured the acutely needed help
for Finland. But when Ryti resigned in July and was replaced by President
Mannerheim, this personal agreement was no longer valid. Therefore,
Finland had been able to hold its line of defense, but was still free to
accept a cease-fire on September 4. The Continuation War ended in both
countries signing the Moscow Armistice on September 19, 1944 (Lindstedt
Tuntematon Sotilas Is Born
Immediately after the war, Linna strived to put all memories of the war
from his mind. However, as time passed, his thoughts would frequently
return to the war and his fellow soldiers. Material for the future novel
was beginning to mature in the writer's subconscious (Varpio, Väinö
The original cover of Tuntematon Sotilas.
Image Source: Helsinki.fi
Linna became an eager storyteller; he had plenty of anecdotes about the
war to share with his friends (Syrjä 266). Some of them mistook his
enthusiasm for militarism, but in reality he was constantly processing the
material for his book (Lindstedt 42). This way he was able to get feedback
and inspiration from his listeners while he was still sketching his work
Väinö Linna felt that the Finnish war literature of the 1950s, which
was strongly characterised by poetic idealism, did not truthfully or
adequately bring out the fear, suffering or courage of the common soldier
(Linna, Tuntemattoman 83). Thus he felt that it was his duty to
unveil the true nature of war and also the true nature of the Finnish
soldier, free of all kind of propagandistic idealism that was so
characteristic of most war literature of the time (Stormbom 118).
Linna had had a wish to write a novel about war for years before he
actually began writing Tuntematon Sotilas. While he was still
fighting in the Continuation War in 1942 he started working on a
documentary novel depicting the actions and movements of his regiment.
Linna offered his work to a publisher, but it was refused as not meeting
the stylistic requirments of a publishable novel. Later on, even Linna
himself felt that his first attempt at a war novel had been 'unworthy in
every respect' (Linna, Sotaromaanin 99-100). The idea, however, was
left to ripen.
As the years went by, Linna's ideas of the war and his own attitude
towards it went through a significant change. His first novel had mostly
been a semi-documentary description of army maneuvers, but now his focus
was on the individual human being; the soldier. To Linna, the soldier was
the central figure of everything that went on during the war, and he was
what Linna wanted to depict in his novel (Linna, Sotaromaanin 101).
Tuntematon Sotilas was the first novel in Finnish war literature
to depict war from the common soldier's point of view (Lindstedt 43).
Linna cast the unknown individual in the title role.
The Truth of Linna's Novel Contradicts the Former Runebergian
The prevailing idea of a Finnish soldier and his mentality had
primarily been introduced by Finland's national poet, Johan Ludvig
Runeberg (1804-1877), in his work Vänrikki Stoolin tarinat [The
Tales of Ensign Ståhl]. According to the Runebergian ideal, the people of
Finland were characterised by humility, bravery and loyalty; they had been
strained by centuries of poverty and hunger, but had remained strong and
tenacious, although a bit simple-minded. When the time would come, they
would be more than ready to sacrifice their life for their fatherland
One of the most famous poems featured in Runeberg's Vänrikki Stoolin
tarinat tells the story of a young soldier named Sven Dufva. Sven is
described as being strong and hardworking; even though he is a bit
simple, he displays humility and cheerfulness to make up for that. Still,
his lack of wits causes him to fail in most everything he tries to do. He
therefore decides to become a soldier, so that he could at least give his
life for king and country. When he goes to war, he fights fearlessly and
with great persistence until his death. The poem ends in the following
'It's true,' they used to say,
'his mind did less than most men's could
A sorry head Sven Duva had;
his heart, though, that was good.' (Runeberg 54)
Sven Dufva came to represent the Finnish conception of an ideal
soldier; he was fearless but humble, and above all ardently patriotic. In
another poem by Runeberg called Sotilaspoika [The Soldier Boy], the
son of a fallen soldier speaks proudly of his father:
(as portrayed by Albert Edelfelt)
The field of honor he could hold
He kept his station, gay and bold,
In blood, in fire, in hunger, cold—
Ay, such a man was he. (Runeberg 125)
The poem ends with the son declaring his wish to follow in his father's
footsteps, towards battle and death:
'Twas so they went, 'twas so they bled,
their course was clear and straight.
How glorious in their time they lived,
and in their death how great!
Why plod until your days are rife?
Nay, hot with youth in battle-strife
Die for your land. Ah! that's the life
I dream of soon or late. (Runeberg 126-127)
Linna was strictly against all exultation of war and death. He wanted
specifically to deprive war of all its glory, and felt it was his duty to
make his realistic depiction of war also a warning example. However, just
as he wanted to deglorify the war, he wanted to give the soldiers all the
recognition they deserved (Linna, Tuntemattoman 84, 86). He had no
wish to deny the weight of their sacrifices, but rather the justification
of the situation that required those sacrifices.
Linna saw the true cruelty of war as being the wanton killing of people
and the disregard of the value of a human life (Linna, Sotaromaanin
106). This contradicts the Runebergian idea that dying for one's country
is the most noble and virtuous objective of a soldier; in Runeberg's poems
the life of an individual is cheap, and its loss is sanctified by the
Linna's soldiers are very different from Runeberg's; they have no
enthusiasm for war at all. They fight because defending their country is
necessary, but they will not tolerate any superfluous activity that does
not directly serve this purpose (Linna, Tuntemattoman 85).
Therefore, they often express their vexation with anything which is
ceremonious or pedantic, and have a derisive attitude towards the poetic
idealisation of war. There is a passage in Tuntematon Sotilas where
one of the characters, Corporal Lahtinen, expresses his frustration over
the war while pulling his machine gun through the snow in a sled:
Hell! God damn it to hell! Of all the goddamn jobs. - - I'd sure like
to see someone whose brains haven't been altogether scrambled by this
foolishness. Grown-up men pulling a damned sled like this up and down the
forest... (Unknown 172)
Corporals Lahtinen and Lehto in
Edvin Laine's 1954 film version of
Image Source: Helsingin Sanomat
The same attitude can be seen in another line of the same character.
One of the soldiers has just shot a Soviet prisoner of war who had tried
to escape, and some of the other soldiers have questioned the morality of
the action. Corporal Lahtinen snaps at them:
Why all the fuss about one man? Over there a man pulls a lanyard, and
three miles away another man gets his head blown off by a shell without
being able to do a thing to avoid it. That's war. War's so senseless in
itself that it's insane to make it even more idiotic with a lot of polite
rules. (Unknown 70)
The way Linna's soldiers feel about war is very different from the way
Runeberg's soldiers feel about it; in Linna's novel war is not seen as
something glorious and enticing, but as totally irrational and senseless.
Tuntematon Sotilas can thus be seen as a protest against
traditional war novels and the kind of blindly passionate patriotism that
marked the worldview of some officers (Heinonen 102).
In Tuntematon Sotilas there is one soldier in particular who is
the perfect opposite of everything Runeberg's soldiers stand for. He is
private Viirilä, a man who respects nothing and nobody; he often refuses
to obey orders, only performs his duty when he feels like it, and is not
remotely interested in idealism or honour. There is a scene in the novel
in which some tanks are approaching the company and some of the soldiers
are running away from the tanks. They are ordered to stop by Lieutenant
Colonel Karjula, but Viirilä does not obey:
Farther off still another man was walking off in defiance of his shout,
a tommy gun slung over his shoulder.
-Halt! You there. Stop! For the last time. Halt!
The man was Viirilä, who pretended not to hear and continued on his way.
He was not running but walking, and slowly at that. And since he was not
running, he felt the order did not concern him. He had left the positions
with the rest, but his unhurried gait was intended to show that he was not
afraid of the Russians, or of Karjula.
-Halt! Where do you think you're going, soldier?
-To Hell! And you can go there, too! (Unknown 290-291)
Obviously this kind of insolence would never be found in Runeberg's
soldiers, who are at all times ready and willing to do whatever is asked
of them, even to die.
Runeberg's poems are frequently quoted and referred to by Linna's
characters, although mostly either in a critical or cynically humorous
tone. There is a scene in the novel in which one of the characters,
Corporal Hietanen, mischievously declares:
Get ready to die for home and country! Pick up your packs. The Finnish
Bear wants to get moving again. (Unknown 61)
Runeberg created a paragon of a soldier; this paragon was offered to
the troops as an uplifting idol, and mocking it was the soldiers' way of
coping with the absurdity of what was asked of them. Linna has said that
during the war he never met a soldier who did not struggle with severe
moral issues over the senselessness of war (Sotaromaanin 106).
In one excerpt from Tuntematon Sotilas Linna straightforwardly
denies all ideological qualities in his soldiers. The excerpt is taken
from a scene where the soldiers are queuing in a canteen:
The pads bore on their cover a stylized drawing of a soldier.
There he stood, steel-helmeted, his trousers creased down
the middle, while behind him a Finnish flag fluttered. A wishful
dream perhaps. Certainly very unlike the real thing now milling
at the counter so boisterously. (Unknown 13)
Linna's idea of a Finnish soldier strongly divided opinions. Kari
Suomalainen, who was a famous Finnish caricaturist 4, stated in one of his works that there are
two kinds of writers: those who make ideals out of mire [Runeberg] and
those who make mire out of ideals [Linna]. Everyone is then free to choose
which lie he or she prefers (Lindstedt 67).
Tuntematon Sotilas Is Revised by the Publisher
Before Tuntematon Sotilas went to press, parts of it were
changed or deleted by the publisher; the worst profanities in the
characters' speech were cleaned up, and open criticism against military
authorities was removed. The previous process was rather pointless,
though, since the obscenities that were left in the book were more than
enough to cause reprehension (Stormbom 122-123).
Another change that was made concerned the characters' dialects; in the
original manuscript of Tuntematon Sotilas the soldiers speak in
dialects that have partly been merged with standard Finnish. This was
because Linna did not want the dialect itself to seem like the actual
purpose of the speech. However, the soldiers' lines were now corrected by
language experts to match authentic dialects. In later literature Linna's
way of implying the dialect with only a few words has become quite common
(Varpio, Sensuroitiinko 6-7).
The deletion of the passages where Linna openly displays criticism
against war and military authorities was the hardest for Linna to accept
(Stormbom 122). Linna was worried that his anti-war connotation would get
lost with the removed passages (Lindstedt 46). However, the Swedish
translator of Tuntematon Sotilas, Mr Nils-Börje Stormbom, states in
his biography that despite the revision, Linna's criticism is still
observable enough, and that all in all the slight alterations had mostly
improved the artistic whole of the novel (123).
The Reception of Tuntematon Sotilas
Tuntematon Sotilas was published on the 3rd of December in 1954.
At first, reviews of his work were more positive than Linna had dared to
hope. Then, on the 19th of December, the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat
published the review of its leading critic, Toini Havu. She titled her
review Purnaajan sota [The grumbler's war]. This review sparked a
remarkably heated and wide controversy about the true image of the war and
the soldier (Lindstedt 47).
Toini Havu and Väinö Linna.
Image Source: Lindstedt 47.
Toini Havu wrote that even though Linna as a writer was a dexterous
styliser, he was depicting the war from such a narrow perspective that
his novel failed to grasp the whole truth of the war. Havu accused Linna
of knowing nothing about the strategy and tactics of war; he only knew his
own discomfort. Linna had, in Havu's opinion, described the Finnish
soldier as a petty grumbler; he hadn't reached the true essence of the
soldier under his rough exterior. Havu concluded that Tuntematon
Sotilas might have a lot of pages, but that this alone did not make it
a great war novel (Purnaajan).
Havu's review marked the beginning of a 'literary Continuation War':
newspapers columns filled with heated arguments either strictly against
Linna's novel or firmly in favor of it. One might even say that by the
early spring of 1955 the people of Finland were divided into two groups:
those who were for Tuntematon Sotilas and those who were against it
(Stormbom 130-133). It can be said, however, that as a general rule, the
closer a person had been to the reality of the battlefront, the more they
approved of Linna's depiction (Lindstedt 50).
One of the claims of the opposing front was that, with his crude
representation, Linna was insulting the real Finnish soldier, who was pure
and self-sacrificing (Stormbom 140). However, Lieutenant Colonel Martti
Santavuori wrote in an article titled Rintamasotilaan monumentti [A
Monument for a Veteran], published in Aamulehti on the 17th of
December in 1954, that despite the coarse language, the instinctive
selfishness, and the at-times-horrifying brutality of Linna's soldiers,
the novel really only describes what can be found inside all of us; that
above all, Linna has brought out the human being in the Finnish soldier
According to Toini Havu, Linna had completely deprived the Finnish
soldier of all Runebergian embellishments, but hadn't understood the noble
substance beneath the soldier's rugged surface. Thus, said Havu, Linna had
failed to capture truth in his novel (Purnaajan). Havu's claim was
contradicted by Aarne Laurila, who wrote in the newspaper Suomen
Sosiaalidemokraatti [The Social Democrat of Finland] that Havu was
merely refusing to hear the truth about the Finnish soldier. He said that
Runeberg, who knew nothing about the reality of war, had established an
idea of the Finnish soldier as unpretentious, modest and occasionally a
bit stupid. In his novel, Laurila wrote, Linna rose against this
stupidity; true enough, he was against all fanaticism and against all
warmongering, but he never disparaged anything truly precious
There was one other thing that constantly came up in the course of the
discussion: Linna's portrait of Finnish officers. Linna was said to have
given a false and unfavorable impression of officers in his novel; some
readers claimed that Linna had made all of his officers either fools,
nitpickers, fanatic militarists or sadists (Stormbom 140-141). Linna
himself felt the accusation was unjustified. He stated that among his
officers, just as among his soldiers, one can find both agreeable and
disagreeable people, precisely as one can find them in reality
(Sotaromaanin 104). Even some of the authentic officers of the
Continuation War took Linna's side; captain Lassi Huttunen wrote in the
publication Reserviupseeri [The Reserve Officer] that, in his
opinion, Linna's portrayal of Finnish officers was indeed very favorable:
Linna's officers were strong and skillful fighters, and not one of them
was a coward. The criticism against some military authorities in Linna's
novel was, in Huttunen's opinion, perfectly acceptable: Huttunen claimed
it was only reasonable to point out some of the deficiencies in the
officers' leadership skills during the war (Stormbom 141-142).
The Runebergian idea of war as a glorified and noble cause had been, by
some, dearly cherished during the war, perhaps because the terrifying
reality would have been too much to bear. When Linna attacked this
ideology through Tuntematon Sotilas, some people felt he was
deprecating the very foundation of their world view. Linna has said that
after the publication of Tuntematon Sotilas, letters from agitated
readers started pouring in. Although the letters were mostly commending,
there were some among them that were purely enraged. According to Linna,
some of the letters contained such monstrous obscenities that he could
never even have imagined putting such words into his soldiers' mouths.
These letters revealed rather clearly the sacred patriotic feelings that
Linna had upset (Sotaromaanin 103). However, it seems that
Tuntematon Sotilas and its unvarnished reality made some of the
initial opposers re-examine their views and change their mind about the
novel's truth. Even two years later Linna received a letter from one his
earlier adversaries saying that he had thought things over and he now
realised that Linna's depiction was truthful after all (Syrjä 296).
President Urho Kekkonen wrote in an article that when Linna's novel was
published, the Continuation War was still an afflictive subject, and had
long been sheltered by a wall of silence. Linna broke the silence;
everybody read his novel and everybody had an opinion about it. Kekkonen
felt that it was a wholesome shake to the stale cultural atmosphere of
Finnish society in the 1950s (Kekkonen 15).
The Changed Image of the Unknown Finnish Soldier
The ideal of the Runebergian soldier was redefined in many ways through
the publishing of Tuntematon Sotilas. The humble but thick-witted
Sven Dufva was replaced by Väinö Linna's grumbling, swearing and
vigorously spirited group of modern Finnish soldiers.
The innocent humility which characterised the ideal soldier of
Runeberg's time was nowhere to be found in Linna's company. The new
soldier was loud, often irritably complaining about the exertion of war
and expressing his derisive attitude towards most military authorities. He
could be audacious, arrogant and brutal, and was inclined to pack his
speech with obscenities.
The other distinguishable trait of Sven Dufva, his towering stupidity,
Linna had substituted with dry wittiness and cynical humour. The clever,
sparkling dialogue of Linna's characters — often mischievously mocking the
idealism of Runeberg's poems — was a brisk antithesis to the dull
clumsiness of Sven Dufva.
The Runebergian soldier's most conspicuous quality was presumably his
eagerness to go to war and fight for his country; for him there was no
greater glory than honorably defending the country he loved. But, as Linna
indicated in his novel, young men were not happy about interrupting their
lives for several years, taken from their homes with a rather strong
possiblity of getting killed. Moreover, unlike the Runebergian idealist,
the new Finnish soldier — an average young man in his twenties — could not
possibly regard his own life as cheap; he had his whole life ahead of him,
and the thought of joyfully sacrificing his very existence for a 'greater
cause' seemed utterly absurd to him. To this new Finnish soldier,
Runeberg's idea of a young man nothing less than happy to die was by no
Altogether, Linna's most profound change was to uncover the human being
in the Finnish soldier. Runeberg's paragon of purity, bravery and
self-sacrifice was not real; Linna's soldiers were real. Linna wanted to
show that soldiers were just individuals with human weaknesses and
shortcomings. Furthermore, Linna wished to manifest his condemnation of
putting these individuals in a situation where their lives were considered
cheap enough to be wasted.
Tuntematon Sotilas was a war novel that was meant to deprive war
of all exaltation and lift the weight of ideals off the shoulders of the
Finnish soldier. Linna was the first person to write an honest account of
the Continuation War and the first person to write from an ordinary
soldier's perspective. Tuntematon Sotilas sparked an open national
discussion about the war, which had been a silenced subject since its
Perhaps one might say that Linna's novel cleared the way for a more
candid national atmosphere. People were now able to look upon the
country's past with honesty; they no longer had the obligation to respect
the old idealistic values after Linna had abolished them through
Tuntematon Sotilas. Thus people were now free to reconcile with the
Even today Väinö Linna's Tuntematon Sotilas is regarded as one
of the greatest works in Finnish literature. Linna's novel also appears to
be regarded as the worthiest account of the Continuation War, since
reading it in Finnish comprehensive school is compulsory for everyone. It
might not be too far-fetched to say that the concept of a Finnish soldier
is even nowadays strongly affected by Linna's characters.
Väinö Linna's Tuntematon Sotilas: A truthful portrait of the
Linna's soldiers in Edvin Laine's 1954 film
Image Source: Hirvonen 63.
Väinö Linna's Tuntematon Sotilas was the first Finnish war novel
to depict war from the common soldier's point of view. It forsook all
romantic idealism and poetic glorification of war, and it showed the
unadorned reality of the battlefield through the eyes of the Finnish
soldier, with all of its cruelty and suffering revealed.
Tuntematon Sotilas also presented the Finnish soldier in a new
light: he was no longer humble, blockheaded and eager to die for his
country, but rather boisterous, verbally witty and full of life and vigor.
The Finnish soldier was no longer just an ideal; he was now a real human
being, with his own individual strengths and shortcomings. His life was
just as precious as anyone else's.
Väinö Linna wanted to give the Finnish soldier all the recognition he
deserved. He declared the true value of the Finnish soldier's sacrifices
during the long and arduous years of the Continuation War, while finally
freeing him from the shackles of false romantic idealism.
- The city of Saint Petersburg on the western border of Russia was
called Leningrad [Lenin city] from 1924 to 1991. The city had been renamed
during the Soviet years after Vladimir Lenin, who was the Chairman of the
Council of People's Commisars from 1917 to 1924 and from 1922 the supreme
ruler of the Soviet Union.
- Although Finland had specifically announced that its war against
the Soviet Union was politically entirely independent from Germany's
warfare, on the 22nd of June in 1941 Hitler declared Finland to be its
ally, which in part prompted Soviet forces to attack Finland three days
- The city of Volgograd on the western bank of the Volga River was
called Stalingrad [Stalin city] from 1925 to 1961. The city had been
renamed after Joseph Stalin, who was the General Secretary of the
Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1953.
- Kari Suomalainen (1920-1999) worked as a political cartoonist for
the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat from 1950 to 1991.
- Havu, Toini. Purnaajan sota. Helsingin Sanomat 19
Dec. 1954: 16.
- Heinonen, Jari. Katseita suomalaisuuteen. Helsinki: TA-Tieto
- Hirvonen, Timo, ed. Koko kansan Tuntematon. Helsinki:
Alfamer Kustannus Oy, 2004.
- Jowett, Philip, and Brent Snodgrass. Finland at War 1939-45.
Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd., 2006.
- Kekkonen, Urho. Mietteitä Väinö Linnan tuotannosta. Väinö
Linna - Toisen tasavallan kirjailija. Ed. Yrjö Varpio. Porvoo: WSOY,
- Laurila, Aarne. Vain vaiva, vaara, nälkä ja väsymys (eli
tosiasioita sodasta). Suomen sosiaalidemokraatti 24 Dec. 1954:
- Lindstedt, Risto. Väinö Linna: Kansakunnan puhemies. Porvoo:
- Linna, Väinö. Sotaromaani. Helsinki: WSOY, 2001.
- - - -. The Unknown Soldier. English translation. Juva: WSOY,
- - - -. Sotaromaanin kirjoittamisesta. Väinö Linna:
Esseitä. Ed. Tapani Laine. Juva: WSOY, 2007. 99-106.
- - - -. Tuntemattoman sotilaan taustaa. Väinö Linna:
Esseitä. Ed. Tapani Laine. Juva: WSOY, 2007. 82-87.
- Runeberg, J. L. The Tales of Ensign Stål. Trans. Charles
Wharton Stork, Clement Burrbank Shaw and C. D. Broad. Helsinki:
- Santavuori, Martti. Rintamasotilaan monumentti.
Aamulehti 17 Dec. 1954: 9.
- Stormbom, N.-B. Väinö Linna: Kirjailijan tie ja teokset.
Juva: WSOY, 1992.
- Syrjä, Jaakko. Muistissa Väinö Linna. Juva: WSOY, 2004.
- Varpio, Yrjö. Sensuroitiinko Linnan Sotaromaani?. Esipuhe.
Sotaromaani. [The original manuscript of Tuntematon Sotilas.] By
Väinö Linna. Viborg: WSOY, 2001.
- - - -. Väinö Linnan elämä. Porvoo: WSOY, 2006.